Buckeye, AZ — Officer David Grossman and the Buckeye Police Department are under fire this week from an angry family who says the way the Phoenix area police officer treated their 14-year-old autistic son was completely inappropriate for an officer of the peace. The officer slammed their son to the ground, injuring him in the process, and now the family wants answers.
Grossman explained to his supervisors why he felt the need to take the boy to the ground that day on July 19. He said he noticed Connor Leibel pacing from the park’s street bench to the corner of the street, fidgeting with something he was holding in his hand, and then smelling it. He said after smelling it the boy appeared to seize and would then do it all again.
In the untrained mind of the officer, the boy was obviously under the influence of some inhaled substance, a conclusion he apparently arrived at well before he made contact with Connor.
As the body camera footage shows, Grossman approached Connor and asked him what he was doing. The autistic boy responded with “good” and that he was “stimming” — short for self-stimulation — the often repetitive actions, movements, and sounds many if not most autistic individuals make to calm and stimulate themselves.
“I’m okay. I’m okay,” Connor screamed as the man he was likely always was told by his family was there as a protector, in that moment, became his tormentor.
Anyone who knows anything about working with autistic individuals knows how to spot someone who is likely autistic. There are the tell-tale signs of repetitive behaviors, rocking motions, awkward social interactions, and inappropriate speech responses in some. And one thing experts also know is autistic individuals get extremely agitated, anxious, and sometimes combative when they’re touched.
Grossman grabbed Connor as the young teenager attempted to walk away from the officer, an action which was well within his civil rights since he was not a suspect in any crime. But Grossman quickly told him not to walk away and attempted to place the boy in handcuffs after grabbing him by the arm.
Connor again attempted to pull away. But when he did, Grossman took him to the ground and held him there until backup arrived, all the while Connor was screaming in agony and trying to mentally make sense of everything happening to him.
“Don’t move…Stop moving…Don’t you move, you understand?” Grossman told the boy as a dangerous situation could have quickly gotten out of hand. If the boy had reached back and grabbed Grossman’s gun, what would have happened then?
“Why are you acting like this Connor,” he asked. “Cause I’m okay,” the boy replied.
The young boy’s aunt, Diane, heard all the child’s screams and approached the scene. She told Grossman she was sorry if her nephew had done anything wrong but stated he had autism. “He’s fighting with me,” the officer said being completely untruthful with the boy’s guardian.
At that moment, the officer should have removed his hands from the boy and allowed him to get to his feet. Instead, he held him down (a no, no with autistic individuals) for what must have been agonizing minutes until his backup arrived.
“He’s doing something with his hands…I don’t know what that is,” the officer stated. “You don’t have anything (drugs) on you do you,” he ignorantly asked again.
“So you drove by, you saw him stimming, and you thought he was on drugs? You don’t know anything about autism, huh”? Diane asked.
After making contact with the autistic boy and his mother, it appeared as though he used the aunt’s identification to run a background check on her to see if she had any warrants.
“I’m so wrong,” Grossman said but wasn’t speaking to the aunt or the boy which would have been the most appropriate person to admit his flaws. Instead, he told a colleague how wrong he was, who responded by saying, “What did you do now?” That one comment may lead many to conclude Grossman has a history of boneheaded missteps.
Now the family is demanding answers. After filing a complaint with the Buckeye police department, and going to the media with pictures of his injuries, the BPD said they have concluded their officer followed procedure. A police spokesperson said they will use the interaction as a learning opportunity to prevent further misunderstanding in the future.
In a statement sent to ABC15 in Phoenix, the family said;
The family is anguished about what happened to Connor. It’s astonishing that even after an internal investigation, the Buckeye Police Department claims it did absolutely nothing wrong.
Diane reportedly works at Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, Arizona. She was walking another sibling across the street to music lessons classes when Grossman, a so-called “drug recognition expert” made contact with Connor who was only alone for a few moments.
Buckeye PD conducted their own internal investigation and concluded Grossman did not apply any use of force in detaining Connor, according to spokesperson Detective Tamela Skaggs.
According to ABCNews 15:
When asked why Grossman, a drug recognition expert, couldn’t tell the difference between a drug user and this boy’s behavior, Det. Skaggs said she couldn’t speak for Grossman because she wasn’t in his head and it happened so fast.
We were going to suggest that Diane round up all the Buckeye police officers and give them all training in how to distinguish a drug addict from an autistic person, but the family already knows what they want to see occur as a result of the gross misunderstanding. According to ABCNews 15, they have a very specific list of demands.
“The family is asking for three things to help seek justice for Connor: first, a personal apology from the officer; second, that the officer perform community service with the autistic community; and third, that Buckeye institute a mandatory training program to prevent an incident like this from ever happening again,” according to the family’s statement.
Raw body cam directly from Buckeye police.
The Buckeye, AZ incident is the second such police vs. special needs children incident we at TFTP have reported within the last two months. As we reported, an autistic boy in Utah was also manhandled when the officer who made contact with him did not like the responses he was given.
The officer laid hands on him and took him down to the ground with a wrist/elbow lock. The boy was then instructed to “listen” to the officer. But with individuals with special needs, even the act of listening can be a challenge. That’s why training is so important for officers to be able to distinguish a drug user from a person who has a health issue.